This past Saturday was World Homeless Day, and it was also the birthday of Right 2 Dream Too, the well maintained and self-managed tent city in downtown Portland that has done more for the houseless community in four years, and done it with way fewer resources, than the City’s 10 Year Plan and millions of dollars spent could ever claim. It seems appropriate then to take a look at houselessness in Oregon and ask what a statewide $15 minimum wage would do to help alleviate the problem.
According to the most recent point-in-time count, on any given night there are some 4,000 houseless men, women, and children sleeping on the streets of Portland. Even more startling is that according to a 2013 report there are 38,000 children throughout Oregon who are considered homeless. That’s the fifth highest rate of child homelessness in the country.
Most of these are not long-term, chronically homeless. Rather, they are people and families who are down on their luck. Many of them got evicted so greedy developers could tear down homes and build more units. They couldn’t find new housing in time, and they can’t even afford to live in Portland anymore because the cost of rent has skyrocketed across the city over the last year. Or they got evicted because they are experiencing temporary unemployment and can’t afford to pay rent. Many of them have jobs, but make poverty wages and can’t afford adequate housing for their families.
To make the case in point, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development there were 2 million people in the U.S. who were houseless at some point during the year 2009. However, only about 5% of them fit the federal definition of “chronic homelessness.” In other words 95% of those 2 million people where homeless for less than one year. They are the very people and families we were just talking about.
One of these families here in Portland is headed by Nicole Stroup. Nicole told her story at a recent “Blessing of the Workers,” hosted by Portland Jobs with Justice in conjunction with the Pope’s address to the U.S. Congress. Her story is all too common: “I’m a food service work on the PSU campus. I am a single mother of two children and I am homeless. I work two jobs. I travel between the State of Oregon and the State of Washington, and my children travel between Washington and Oregon City to be with family and friends so that I can go to work.”
But Nicole also talked about her support for the Fight for $15. Not because $15 is actually enough to support a family on, but rather because $15 is finally a decent starting place. With a $15 minimum wage, Nicole and other single moms like her won’t be wealthy, or even well off, but they will have a fighting chance to be able to afford adequate housing for their families in the city where they work, so they don’t have to be homeless, and so they don’t have to spend two hours each way on public transportation getting to and from work, never having any time to be parents to their kids.
A $15 minimum wage will help those families who are facing eviction because of rent increases they can’t afford. It will help those families who have jobs, but experience houselessness because they have to choose between feeding their kids or paying rent. A $15 minimum wage is a part of the solution for one of the largest demographics of houseless people in our state, kids and their families, parents who don’t make enough money or are down on their luck and experiencing temporary houselessness.
We should Fight for $15 for all low-wage workers. But in particular, we should fight for $15 for people like Nicole, parents who need that extra $3, $4, or $5 per hour in order to keep a roof over their kids’ heads. Join us, and fight for a $15 minimum wage for Oregon!